Autumn Knepper and Adam Marsh, a couple living in Vancouver, Washington, say that they’re being sued for $112,000 over a pair of one-star reviews they left a local roofing company.
The saga started when the couple’s roof began leaking a few months ago. According to KGW, their landlord had Executive Roof Services (ERS) do an inspection, with the visiting employee concluding there were a few areas to fix.
“I asked him about a timeline about when this might get finished. He told me to call the office the next day,” Knepper told the NBC affiliate.
She said she did call and got a receptionist who was rude throughout their exchange. “She refused to give me any information. She said I would have to get it from the landlord. I asked to speak with the manager and she laughed at me. She told me I was verbally abusing her and that she was the office manager. She hung up on me,” Knepper added.
Marsh said he had a similar experience with the same person. “She was just super rude, told me that she was office manager and there was no one else I could talk to and hung up on me,” Marsh said.
Knepper and Marsh both gave one-star reviews on Google. Marsh also filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, though that complaint never got up because the two weren’t technically customers of ERS since the landlord was the one who hired the company.
ERS currently has an A+ rating with the BBB.
Knepper claimed the company’s owner contacted them and said “he had [a] forensics guy and that he would gladly spend a hundred thousand dollars suing [them].”
She said the owner sent her a text saying the review had to be taken down before “more damages are done.” Knepper then called a police officer, who reportedly told the owner to cease contacting the couple.
The pair then got letters from a law firm demanding their reviews be taken down. The couple did not do that, and they say they’re now being sued for defamation and intentional interference with business expectancy.
The figure being sought by ERS was reported as $112,000 and $28,000 per week.
“Honestly, I cried immediately. I was terrified. [I] can’t afford a lawyer. I can’t afford to pay $112,000. And I can’t, I don’t want to file for bankruptcy,” Knepper said.
An attorney representing the company said the lawsuit isn’t solely because of the bad reviews, but rather (per his argument) trying to use the reviews to acquire something they weren’t authorized to receive. The attorney claimed it’s because they weren’t entitled to the info they requested (a timeline and report on the roof fix) since their landlord hired ERS.
Another attorney, this one with the Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen Litigation Group, told KGW he thinks this is an example of a SLAPP lawsuit, a “strategic lawsuit against public participation” that seeks to silence critics by forcing them to spend money they don’t have in order to fight a lawsuit.
“I think the business has a lot to lose by litigating it, by trying to frame this as a defamation case. The problem is that the business has the money and the couple doesn’t,” said attorney Paul Levy, who thinks the couple could win in court.
The roofing company’s lawyer denied the SLAPP claim. “That is not what a SLAPP lawsuit is, a SLAPP is a motion. This is a lawsuit. The lawsuit asserts claims for defamation and for intentional interference with business expectancies,” they said.
The couple created a GoFundMe that currently has raised $8,855 of its $100,000 goal.
“I just don’t want my future completely destroyed by something so small. This is obviously a man who is well off and can afford to do this, and I can’t afford to fight it. And I think he knows that,” Knepper said.
The roof was eventually fixed by a different company.